Is 'Moon Soil' The Answer For A Sustainable Future On The Moon?

June 3, 2022

Just a little over fifty years ago, humankind made it to the moon. This took years of effort, many failed attempts, and lots of resources from across the globe. That day is still remembered by many. Although the idea of space is–quite literally–far away for most of us, space travel is becoming increasingly more popular. Companies such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have opened up space to those who can pay the tour fee. Not only is space the next hot vacation destination, but we are also barreling ahead to get colonies of humans living on the moon and Mars.

Space tourism requires a lot more resources than your typical flight to a warm sandy beach somewhere. These flights are generally only 90 minutes long to provide only a few guests with the perfect view of our planet from space and then promptly turn around. However, space tourism flights have a footprint that can be 100 times higher than a long-haul flight for a single person. Although it does depend on the fuel source, the number of resources needed still creates a significant impact on our environment. Space tourism flights are only getting more popular. As companies like SpaceX launch multi-day space adventures that allow those who can afford the $250,000 price tags to feel weightless, more companies will move towards space travel, making it accessible to more people.

A close up of planet Earth from space

Whether on the moon or Mars, human colonies in space will require even more resources. With the moon being much more accessible to us, many programs focus on establishing settlements there. A research team from Nanjing University in China released a study discussing “extraterrestrial photosynthesis,” which would allow colonization space missions on resources needed to maintain the colonies. These types of missions require so much fuel and external resources that need to be shipped back and forth with rockets, many of which have single-use engines, so any resources that can be cut down saves on direct emissions from the flight, but also water, fossil fuels, and other resources needed to make supplies needed for the colony.

According to the study, “extraterrestrial photosynthesis” can be achieved by compounds found in lunar soil. Lunar rock sediments are iron and titanium-rich, which can act as catalysts to form many valuable compounds. The researchers believe that colonists could use the soil and the moisture from their breath to generate air and hydrogen, which can be used to create methane fuel. Utilizing this process would allow colonists to have life support that would require “zero-energy consumption,” as all resources needed for the fuel could be accessed from the moon. This is a massive step as previous theories for supporting life on the moon all required resources from the Earth to be able to operate.

There are many fascinating and important reasons for space exploration. I cannot deny that the idea of witnessing the first colony in Outerspace makes me excited. But with a significant motivation being a fear of running of resources on our own planet due to centuries of a solely linear economy and climate change, we have to be mindful of how we get there. Space exploration is not a reason to give up on our planet; we only have one home planet.

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Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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Iga is a freelance writer based in Colorado, but originally from Poland. She follows the vegan, sustainability and zero-waste movements while trying to live a practical lifestyle! When she’s not writing she likes to practice yoga, read, play with her dogs and just be outside in nature. You can find more of her work at her website www.igashmiga.com.

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